“I’m volunteering for NATIONAL TRAILS DAY ,” I told my friends.
“What’s that,” they all asked. No one else had heard of it either.
On the first Saturday in June for the past seventeen years America has been celebrating National Trails Day, inspiring people to learn about, and participate in the work that goes into creating, maintaining, and as I found out, cleaning Americas 2,000 miles of hiking trails.
At the designated meeting place, marker number 34.5 on highway 33, in the back country a half hour outside of Ojai, California, armed with extra heavy-duty garbage bags, buckets, and gloves, I followed nine other volunteers on a sandy trail along a riverbed, through long reed like grass against a backdrop of ancient rock croppings.
“This place is stunning,” I said to the woman in front of me.
The trail opened to a flat field covered with red plastic tubes, blankets, boxes, and old TVs, radios and shattered whiskey and beer bottles that had been used for target practice. Suzanne, our organizer from Los Padres Forest Watch bent over and picked something up from the ground.
“We’re looking for these,” she said passing around a small shiny bullet casing. “Especially the lead ones.”
Once my eye was familiar with the tiny bullet shell, I could see thousands of them lying on the ground of almost the same color, and partially or completely buried into the hard sand.
“Microtrash easily washes down river into the ocean, and gets eaten by wildlife, especially the California Condor,” Suzanne explained.
The Los Padres (unlike other National Forests in S. California) still allows target shooting in the forest. Anyone can go anywhere in the forest, anytime, and shoot at targets. Twenty man-hours later, we had only scratched the service – literally – of the environmental damage this legal activity can cause.
The next day I took my dog Zia into the Los Padres front country (shooting targets is usually done in the back country)
where we panted uphill among the mist, sage, mountain lilacs, rocks and rabbits as we followed the trails on one of the longest hikes we have done in a year. And that is how I choose to remember my celebration of National Trails Day!
If you love hiking, you may like Wild, a review of which was the subject of a recent post.
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